Milk from breast pumps may put babies at asthma risk

Toronto: Indirect breastfeeding —using pumps to extract milk from the breasts —can expose babies to potential pathogens that increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory infections, a study claims. A breast pump is a mechanical device that lactating women use to extract milk from their breasts. Many mothers use them to continue breastfeeding after they return to work. It is also used to address a range of challenges parents may encounter breast feeding.

The research, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, suggests that the milk microbiota is affected by bacteria both from the infant’s mouth and from environmental sources such as breast pumps. The large-scale analysis showed that using pumped milk is associated with the depletion of oral bacteria and a higher abundance of potential pathogens compared with  direct breastfeeding at the breast.

“To our knowledge, this is among the largest studies of human milk microbiota performed to date,” said Meghan Azad, a researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “This study considerably expands our understanding of the human milk microbiota and the factors that might influence it. The results will inspire new research about breastfeeding and human milk, especially related to pumping,” said Azad.

Although previously considered sterile, breastmilk is now known to contain a low abundance of bacteria. While the complexities of how maternal microbiota influence the infant microbiota are still unknown, this complex community of bacteria in breastmilk may help to establish the infant gut microbiota.

Disruptions in this process could alter the infant microbiota, causing predisposition to chronic diseases such as allergies, asthma, and obesity. Although recent studies on human milk microbiota suggest that it might be affected by various factors, these findings have not been reproduced in large-scale studies, and the determinants of milk microbiota are still mostly unknown.

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